View from the Bench: A new Heartspoken series
I'm trying to teach myself how to be more observant, and I hope you'll come along, dear readers, as I explore a small piece of the world right outside my door. Believing that simplicity is best, I've decided to experiment with something anyone can do, whether you live in a country home or a city high rise. I'm going to step outside to sit on the Trex bench right underneath my kitchen window for no more than 10 to 20 minutes—equipped only with my cell phone's camera, a pair of binoculars, pen, and pad of paper—and report my observations: sights, sounds, smells, sensations. Call it a micro-exploration, but I think it will be fun to do it at different times of the year and watch the changes.
You can do it too!
Find a spot near your own home where you can do this: a patio, a balcony, or a park bench. If necessary, toss a folding chair into the car and drive to your favorite spot. We may not discover anything earth-shattering, but I'm sure by this time next year, we'll have trained ourselves to pay just a little closer attention to the tiny wonders all around us.
If you keep a nature journal, this is the perfect place to record your observations. If you don't, you might enjoy a post I wrote a couple of years ago: “13 Great Reasons To Start A Nature Journal.” Of course any notebook or pad of paper will do.
View on June 22, 2014
Yesterday was the first day of summer. It's a Sunday afternoon at about 5pm as I embark on my “View from the Bench” experiment. It's very comfortable—about 70 degrees—in spite of the late afternoon sun, probably because a gray layer of clouds is blocking some of the heat. Not a breath of air is stirring as I first start to look around. There's no movement at all in the leaves of the perennials in my flower bed or even in the treetops at the edge of my sight. The trees are in full summer leaf, and to my right, at the far end of the yard, the two chestnut trees are blooming. Their musky smell is not one I particularly enjoy, but the fluffy catkins are a harbinger of the chestnuts our deer will enjoy later this year.
The lawn is a sea of clover-studded grass, and a lone rabbit is nibbling happily in the middle of it, seemingly unafraid of its exposed position. I wish it would stay out there, but I see evidence of its chomping among the plants in my flowerbed.
There is a conspicuous paucity of birdsongs, but the raucous cry of a crow alerts me to its movement high up in the trees. It's undoubtedly staking out its territory or warning others of a possible predator. Throughout my time on the bench, I get an occasional glimpse of a crow flying from one perch to another in the distant pines. Before I leave, I hear a distant Cardinal's call that seems to be answered by another, perhaps its mate.
The hum of a neighbor's lawnmower is a familiar sound that brings with it the wonderful summer smell of fresh cut grass. I'm immediately transported back to summer childhood days on the farm in Fauquier County. If I weren't “on assignment,” those lovely sensations could soon lull me to sleep.
I see a large ant crawling across my bare toes, but I can't feel it. I wonder if it's just on its way somewhere or if it's attracted to the red polish I'm wearing on my toes.
My back is to the house and I'm facing southwest. To document today's view, I snap a photo in three directions: straight ahead (southwest), to my right (northwest), and to my left (southeast). Through the lens of the camera, I notice a small ant crawling across the hummingbird feeder, enticed, I'm sure, by droplets of sugar water I spilled when I refilled the feeder. As if on cue, a loud buzz heralds the flash of one hummingbird, and then another as they head to the feeder. They're wary, of course, and speed away after the tiniest sip. I'm rewarded with a glimpse of the male's iridescent ruby throat that gives the species its name. The female returns shortly, willing to perch for just a bit longer and drink from the handblown glass globe. Several times while I'm watching, they chase each other across my line of site.
The flowerbed straight in front of me is rather pitiful. Between the deer and the rabbits, it is chewed up and stunted, but the tickseed is beginning to bloom its lovely yellow flower, and there's a single red bud on the Knockout Rose bush Daddy gave me a few years ago.
I feel a breeze beginning to blow across my face, and sure enough, there's a stirring of leaves in the apple and maple trees nearby. And yes, there's the wind sculpture beginning to turn, while the grasses underneath it begin to undulate as the moving air caresses them. The drone of a small plane becomes audible, and I can only imagine the wonderful view of the Shenandoah Valley its occupants are enjoying.
I'm very comfortable in the afternoon warmth. It's cooler and less humid than its been in recent days. A distant jetliner's drone makes me aware of the invisible machine hidden by the clouds, a reminder that the city and a large airport is only 60 miles away.
The rabbit has moved farther away, its white cottontail barely visible against the green grass. A bumblebee hovers on the edge of the patio, and a dragonfly alights on a warm brick. A mosquito lands on my finger, but I'm able to flick it away before I feel the familiar sting.
A chirruping sound from the woods seems more like an insect than a bird, but I don't recognize it. I do recognize the tuneful chirping of robins in the front yard. They're been more plentiful this year than usual.
Sooner than I imagined, my time is up. I'm amazed at how many notes I've taken and how much pleasure and relaxation I've enjoyed from my time on the bench.
If you decide to join me in this adventure, please share your findings in the comments below or on Heartspoken's Facebook page.
P.S. Click the bench image below to see more about the wonderful Trex bench we ordered from Amazon – no maintenance!